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Efficiency from the ground up: tale of a Power Smart home

Power Smart New Home Program house

Builder works with customer to produce home with an EnerGuide rating of 89 

Many of us strive to make our homes more energy (and cost) efficient. New ENERGY STAR® lighting, appliances or even windows can be good options for upgrading your home's efficiency.

But how many of us plan to build our own homes with energy efficiency in mind? That's just what Harwinder and wife Preet Bal in Vancouver did.

When the Bals approached the uncle of a close friend to custom-build their new home, they knew they wanted it to be energy efficient. So in 2010, they and builder Harminder Sian, of Sian Development and Contracting Ltd., started on a path that would see them build a top-rated energy efficient house from the ground up.

The Bals started the same way many others do when making a major purchase decision — research on the Internet. But their research was focused on technologies and plans that could be used to build their new home.

Upgraded insulation pays off

Adding or upgrading your insulation can be an effective way to boost the energy efficiency of your home. You can upgrade the insulation in many areas of an existing house fairly easily and for relatively low costs.

If you are building a new home, like the Bals were, it's worth ensuring that you insulate it well.

One of the first innovations the Bals used on their new home was insulated concrete forms that stack like interlocking bricks. Wood forms have to be removed after the concrete is poured and usually wind up as waste. These forms stay in place, and become added insulation.

The Bals increased the R-Value for the exterior walls by using spray foam insulation in the wall cavities and wrapping the entire structure in 1-inch rigid foam insulation. Harwinder Bal even went through the entire house with a can of spray foam insulation and filled in all of the holes left by the electricians, plumbers and other trades.

Better insulation and tighter sealing are the most cost-effective way to higher energy performance. Sealing the gaps and cracks with caulking and weather stripping is one of the most cost-effective steps you can take to keep the heat inside your home, and can reduce heat loss by up to 10 per cent.

High-efficiency hot water and windows that work

The Bals also decided to put solar panels on the roof for hot water pre-heating; heating water is one of the most energy-intensive processes in a home.

The decision to install solar hot water system was supported by incentives from the City of Vancouver and Solar BC. While that's not necessarily an option for your home, hot water heaters can be another place to increase efficiency.

High-efficiency and on-demand heaters are offering new options to customers who need to replace their existing units.

The Bals' home also maximizes its use of natural light with large ENERGY STAR windows on its southern side. In addition to energy-efficient windows, you can make the most of daylight and reduce your use of electric lights through effective window treatments and paint colours. After all, daylight is natural and free to use.

Home interior comfortable, worth the cost

The home's interior was selected with energy efficiency in mind too. There are programmable thermostats throughout the house.

The Bals also used only ENERGY STAR appliances, contributing to an impressive EnerGuide rating of 89. The higher your EnerGuide rating, the more efficient your home, saving energy and money.

Harwinder Bal admits that the home certainly cost more up front, but feels it was worth it.

"Sure we spent a little more money up front, but there will be fewer costs month to month now, and there's more value in our home," he says.

The family moved into their new Vancouver home in February 2012, and with two cold-weather seasons behind them, they can attest that energy efficiency leads to improved comfort; their new home has been warm and cozy.

As for Sian, his experience building the Bals' home has increased his interest in energy efficiency.

His next step? To enroll with BC Hydro's Power Smart New Home Program. The program provides financial incentives of up to $3,000 per home to builders and developers who build qualified energy-efficient homes.